Photography by Michael Heller/East Hampton Fire Department
By Stephen J. Kotz
A fire that swept through a vacant 17th century colonial house on Main Street in Sagaponack early Monday morning is being investigated as a possible case of arson.
Southampton Town Police, who are leading the investigation, did not return multiple calls seeking comment, but a firefighter who was at the scene and spoke on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday that an onlooker had found “some type of fabric” in the nearby Sagaponack burying ground that detectives later determined had accelerant on it.
The onlooker, who also requested anonymity, said the fabric “looked like an old beach towel” and was accompanied by a shopping bag. “I thought to myself, ‘Did someone escape from that fire?’” the witness said.
The witness gave a statement to police but told The Express that there was nothing outwardly suspicious about the items. “I didn’t smell gasoline,” the person said. “I kicked the bag, but didn’t see a gas can or anything like that, but it was dark.”
According to an inventory of Sagaponack buildings completed for the Sagaponack Village Historic District in 2000, the house, at 850 Main Street, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The northern half of the house dates to approximately 1650. The southern half of the house was built by Jesse Pierson n 1842. His son, David, later lived in the house and it was eventually owned by James Henry Devereaux as a summer home. It was later converted into the “Hearthstone Inn” and remained an in inn until 1962 when it was purchased by the Robb family for a summer home. The property is now owned by part-time resident Peter Smith.
According to Bridgehampton Fire Chief Gary Horsburgh, the initial call came in at 5:42 a.m. Second Assistant Chief Jeff White, who was the first member of the department on scene, found the south side of the house totally engulfed in flames, Chief Horsburgh said.
“We put out the call for mutual aid right away,” Chief Horsburgh said. “It was all exterior fighting. It was too hot to go inside.”
Chief Horsburgh said the East Hampton, Sag Harbor, and Southampton Fire Departments also responded to the scene, as did the Southampton Village Ambulance and Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps. North Sea firefighters provided backup at the Bridgehampton firehouse.
The chief said about 75 volunteers turned out to help put out the fire, which took about three hours to put out. Firefighters were called back to the scene around noon to extinguish embers that were in danger of reigniting.
Chief Horsburgh said no one was injured in the blaze.
Chris Hanson, a Southampton Town fire marshal, who was involved in the initial investigation said on Wednesday that the matter had been turned over to town police and declined to comment.
The Suffolk County Police Department’s arson squad, which also investigated the scene on Monday, also referred calls to town police.